The AFL is under fire for a big rule shift that was badly exposed on Thursday night with Kane Cornes hitting out at the oversight.
AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has made good on his promise to crackdown on abusive behaviour towards umpires.
Thursday night’s pre-season clash between Melbourne and Carlton at Marvel Stadium was headlined by a series of incidents where Demons stars were pinged for behaviour that was deemed to be aggressive by the whistleblowers.
The Demons gave up right 50m penalties in the five-point loss, including three for interactions with umpires.
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It comes as concern around the new rule interpretation swirled this week with some commentators declaring the abrupt crackdown just two weeks before the start of the season will dominate early season discussions among fans.
The impact of the crackdown was exposed on Thursday night when Demons forward Tom McDonald was pinged for a 50m penalty for waving his arms towards the umpire.
Video of the incident initially suggested Christian Petracca had given away the 50m free-kick when he clenched his fists with frustration while not looking directly at the umpire.
However, the AFL has moved to clarify the free kick was awarded against McDonald, according to The Herald Sun’s John Ralph.
It shows the line for what constitutes aggressive, abusive, demonstrative or dissentive behaviour is somewhere between a fist clench and a shrug of the arms.
The ability for umpires to accurately police the new interpretation with consistency looms as one of the big talking points of the 2022 season, according to former St Kilda star Leigh Montagna.
“I’m sure it will be a big talking point early in the season,” he told Triple M’s Rush Hour on Thursday.
He said an incident last week where Hawks star James Sicily gave away a 50m penalty for a “half laugh” at a decision that went against him against him showed it is impossible for players not to have an emotional reaction — even innocently — when borderline decision go against them.
“They are cracking down seriously hard on any abuse or disrespect towards umpires,” he said.
“Just keep an eye this weekend when you’re watching at home and you see a 50m penalty given and you don’t know what it’s for. Because you won’t know what it’s for. It will be most likely that a player has said something to an umpire.
“I think this will be massive in the first month of the season.
“I’m looking for the ones where a player complains about the decision. In the heat of the moment in any sport at any level we all get frustrated and make complaints and say, ‘What are you doing, c’mon umpire’ or something like that. If they start giving away 50m penalties for that, it’s going to have a significant impact on the game. As much as everyone wants to do the right thing, in the heat of the moment with all the emotion, if you’re frustrated — not being abusive or demonstrative — if they’re giving away 50m penalties for those things it’s going to be a long year.”
It dominated chatter on social media on Thursday night.
Former Port Adelaide star Kane Cornes posted on Twitter: “I can’t cop this”.
News Corp AFL reporter Matt Turner wrote on Twitter: “Gonna be tough for umpires to discern sometimes between players showing frustration at themselves/their teammate vs an umpire’s decision”.
Channel 7 reporter Ned Balme wrote: “This isn’t going to help umpires. It’s only going to make them seem more thin skinned and thus worth of criticism. AFL needs to decide if they want umps to be buddy buddy or untouchably authoritarian. Can’t straddle the fence with penalties like this at play”.
Twitter user John Whistler posted: “Frustration isn’t dissent. The wrong call. Get ready for another season of rules idiocy”.
McLachlan this week made a public apology to umpires for letting the conditions for umpires deteriorate to this point that a crackdown is required.
In response to umpire shortages at community level, the AFL announced late last month it would come down hard on umpire abuse this year.
Club staffers could find themselves suspended from match day duties if they abuse officials, while players can expect to be punished more harshly on field for aggressive treatment of umpires.
Speaking at the launch of the AFL’s Festival of Footy on Thursday, McLachlan apologised to umpires for the abuse they may have endured in attempting to police the game.
“Frankly, I take responsibility for the fact that I think it has got away from us,” he said.
“And I think the rules are clear: We are not going to tolerate the abuse of umpires.
“And it’s clear to our players, our clubs. I’m apologetic it has gotten to this point.
“We’ve got a dearth of umpires. There’s 6000 umpires short nationally.
“It’s a great credit to the growth of our game, but it’s also the fact that the supply of umpires hasn’t kept up because it’s a tough job and it’s also made tougher by the players, supporters and others.”
McLachlan said players were still permitted to approach and address umpires but there was a correct way to go about things in the heat of battle.
The crackdown on umpire abuse comes after Toby Greene made headlines for his “ump bump” in the GWS Giants’ elimination final win over the Sydney Swans last season.
For making contact with umpire Matt Stevic, Greene was rubbed out of the Giants’ semi-final loss and the opening five rounds of the 2022 season.
The AFL season begins on March 16 when last year’s grand finalists Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs meet at the MCG.
— with Jasper Bruce, NCA NewsWire,